Child support is an important factor in many divorces as well as in many single parents’ lives. Calculating child support payments accurately will help ensure that your children are well provided for and can help you protect your and your children’s financial future. When it comes to child support in Missouri, there are a couple of important factors to consider to help ensure that payments are calculated and paid accurately. If you are dealing with child support issues, contact our St. Louis family law attorneys today to speak with one of our lawyers and learn more.
Calculating Child Support Payments in Missouri
In most cases, child support in Missouri is determined by using Form 14. Understanding what this form is about can help you understand your child support obligations for Missouri children.
The first section of Form 14 asks for information about each parent's income. Income from employment, self-employment, disability payments, government benefits, pension, and investments may all be considered as “income”. In addition to income received from other sources, the first section asks about any spousal support or alimony that has been ordered by the court. These amounts comprise the monthly gross income for both parents. Additionally, any child support received for other children or paid for other children may adjust the monthly gross income as well.
Basic Child Support Amount
Based on the combined adjusted gross income of both parents, a child support amount is selected from a chart. This amount is determined on the basis of combined income and the number of children in the family. As a general rule, parents spend more to raise a child in a household earning $200,000 a year than in a household earning $50,000 a year.
Additional Child-Rearing Costs
Once the overall cost of supporting the child is determined, the court must take into account additional child-rearing costs being paid by the parents. For the parent with primary physical custody, they will often be paying for childcare. They may, however, receive a child tax credit on their income taxes. Both parents (or either parent) may be responsible for health insurance costs for the children.
In addition to health insurance premiums and childcare, there are categories for “agreed-upon or court-ordered extraordinary medical costs” and “Other agreed-upon or court-ordered extraordinary child-rearing costs.” These refer to medical costs that are not covered by insurance. For example, some adaptive devices or special therapies may not be covered by insurance, and these are factored into child support calculations.
The category for “Other agreed-upon or court-ordered extraordinary child-rearing costs” could include almost anything, as long as the parents agree upon it or the court orders it. For example, if both parents agree that private school is the best setting for their child, the cost of tuition for the private school might qualify as “extraordinary child-rearing costs”.
Each Parent's Support Obligation
The total combined child support costs are multiplied by the percentage calculated previously to determine what amount each parent is responsible to pay. However, if the non-custodial parent pays for some additional child-rearing costs, the non-custodial parent is credited for those costs. For example, if the non-custodial parent pays for health insurance premiums or for any “extraordinary” costs like private school tuition or unreimbursed medical expenses, the amount that they pay will be deducted from their portion of the child support owed. Finally, the amount of child support may be reduced due to extended periods of custody or visitation.
The Importance of Accurate Child Support Calculations
Once a child support order is entered, it can only be changed if the amount of support ordered would change by more than 20%. For example, if the original child support order was for $2,000 a month, a modification of child support can only be requested if completing the form with current information would yield a child support amount greater than $2,200 a month or less than $1,800 a month. Therefore, it is important to make sure that the initial child support calculations are as accurate as possible.
Paying & Collecting Child Support in Missouri
The most common way for parents to pay their child support in Missouri is through payroll deductions. Employers are notified of a child support order, and they deduct the amount directly from the employee's paycheck and forward it to the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS), where it is then disbursed to the receiving parent.
If the paying parent is self-employed or unemployed, the parent is responsible for making regular payments directly to DSS. If a parent fails to make these payments, that parent may have their tax return seized to pay the debt. Non-paying parents can also have their personal property seized, be reported to credit bureaus, lose driving or professional licenses, be prosecuted, and in severe cases, even be jailed for contempt of court.
Child Support and Child Custody
In Missouri, child support and child custody are two separate arrangements. If you are the custodial parent and the other parent has not been paying child support, you are not authorized to restrict or forbid visitation. If the parent ordered to pay child support has not been paying child support, you should contact your attorney or DSS to have child support payments enforced. If you try to take matters into your own hands by restricting access to the children, you could be sued for violating the court-ordered child custody and visitation agreement.
Likewise, if you are the paying parent and the custodial parent attempts to restrict or forbid visitation, you are not authorized to stop paying child support. If the custodial parent is not adhering to the terms of the child custody and visitation agreement, you can contact an attorney to request enforcement of the agreement. If you stop paying child support, you can also get into trouble.
Informal Child Support Agreements and the Law
Sometimes parents will make informal agreements regarding child support, especially if that child support is not garnished from wages. For example, the non-custodial parent may agree to pay for new school clothes in exchange for not paying child support that month. Or the custodial parent may request that the non-custodial parent pay child support directly to them. Unfortunately, these informal agreements can create problems.
The reason that almost all child support payments are made through DSS is that it makes it easy to confirm whether a payment has been made. This protects the paying parent from allegations of non-payment that could result in serious consequences.
Modifications of Child Support
If your circumstances have drastically changed since your child support order was made, you need to file for a modification of child support and obtain a court order to change or adjust your child support. Without a new court order, you are NOT protected if you decide to stop paying or do not pay the full amount.
Learn More About Child Support in Missouri
Child support can be confusing for all parties involved. If you have questions or need guidance on laws for child support in Missouri, contact our St. Louis family law attorneys today to schedule a consultation.